Mary Magdalene

Artists, left to right: Owen Couch, unknown, Robert Lentz, Richard Stodart, unknown
(If you know the makers of either of the unknowns, I would be grateful to learn.)

She has always been one of my favorite characters from the stories of Jesus, along with Photina, the Woman at the Well. Women who lived raw and wild, undomesticated and on their own terms. There always seems to be something more, something deeper, something I can’t quite hear or understand, like a powerful dream that’s just fading before I can remember the details, or a word that sits on the tip of the tongue without finding its way into the open air. Mary Magdalene holds a Mystery that is always one step deeper into the veil of mists, one more curtain to encounter, one more step into the wilderness.

All the attempts to nail down her mystery, to put words to it, always leave me a little cold, compelling as they are: Maybe she was Jesus’ wife or lover. Maybe she was the real writer of one of the canonic gospels. Maybe she is the Holy Grail. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Mary Magdalene sits, like the High Priestess, before the curtain of mysteries, and only as I gain wisdom will I be granted the clue or the code or the shaft of golden sunlight that will admit me to the next stage of understanding. Like all the deepest mysteries, like the Deep Self, she lives in the realm of image and symbol, offering egg and thunder, grail and alabaster jar, skull and hair and tears. Best understood on the level of a dream. Best spoken in poetry, perhaps.

That moment of Mary’s epiphany is the mirror of every moment of yearning and longing and ache. Deep grief gives way to confusion and an intensification of grief: Where have they taken the body? And then the moment when the Beloved calls her by her name. I can never write that without getting chills and tearing up. Thomas, Peter, The Emmaus Travelers–those surprises are all coming, all delightful. But this one moment of sunlight in a garden and the sound of her/my name in the voice of the Beloved–it needs no pinning down, no explanation.


Gratitude List:
1. Wind. Yes, it’s scary, and I don’t really need more anxiety right now, but it’s so beautiful and powerful. After the big winds, I always think, “Wind-shriven,” the world scoured clean.
2. This long weekend. I have not yet gotten my lagging work completed, but I have had three marvelous days of baking and sewing and trail-work and playing with the family.
3. The story of Mary Magdalene. I need her Mystery and Epiphany now, perhaps more than ever.
4. Making plans even in the midst of this uncertainty. Putting programs and ideas and lesson plans into online formats is so much less than ideal, but I feel myself growing and thinking in new ways. In the after, I will be informed by the ways my brain has been forced to adapt in these months, and hopefully that will contribute to a glorious new normal instead of a return to an old normal.
5. Martin Prechtel’s ideas about Grief and Praise. I am going to have to buy some of his books.

May we walk in Beauty!


“I pray to the birds. I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the messages of my heart upward. I pray to them because I believe in their existence, the way their songs begin and end each day—the invocations and benedictions of Earth. I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love rather than what I fear. And at the end of my prayers, they teach me how to listen.” ―Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place


“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” ―Emma Lazarus


“Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the Romance of the unusual.” ―Ernest Hemingway


“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” ―Robert Frost


“What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as One,
Received not in essence but by participation.
It is just as if you lit a flame from a live flame:
It is the entire flame you receive.”
―St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)


“We love the things we love for what they are.” ―Robert Frost


“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.” ―Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet


“I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” ―Sarah Williams


“Resist much, obey little.” ―Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.” ―e. e. cummings


“If we do not mean that God is male when we use masculine pronouns and imagery, then why should there be any objections to using female imagery and pronouns as well?” ―Carol P. Christ


“Subversive language, however, must be constantly reinvented, because it is continually being co-opted by the powerful.” ―Carol P. Christ

Poem a Day: 12

The prompts today are “spirit” and “eggs.” And it is Easter, so that wants to weave into the mix. One of my favorite moments in all of the New Testament stories is the moment when Mary Magdalene is weeping in the garden, and asks the gardener where they have taken her beloved, and the gardener turns, and it IS her beloved, and he says her name. This feels like one of the holiest stories to me.

Grief is the Egg
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

“Grief is not your problem.
Grief is not the sorrow.
Grief is the medicine.” —Martin Prechtel

There are people who sing when they weep,
who wail for the dead in poems,
chant the wandering spirits into seeds
that will sprout in the new world
as trees, or storms, or whales.

Grief is not the rock that entombs you.
It is the egg of the thing to come,
the precious perfume in the alabaster jar
that finds its way to praise life and living
even as it anoints the dead.
The egg and the seed are the medicine.

Grief is no dead end road.
It is the curtain rent in two,
the woman weeping in the garden:
“Tell me, if you know,
where they have taken my beloved.”

Grief is the egg of the moment,
radiant with sunlight,
just before the gardener turns,
and you hear your name.

Poem a Day: 10

The Prompts Today are Washing Dishes (which I am choosing to interpret as general quotidian household living) and There was a _______ Who ______. I needed to get away from the brooding abstractions of yesterday and into something decidedly surreal, which is where I am usually most comfortable. I come home to magical realism when I lose my writer’s voice. I feel like I am catching my stride again.

There Was a Woman Who Swallowed the Moon
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

There once was a woman who swallowed the moon.
I will not tell you that I know her.
I will not tell you that this is a lie.

I knew a woman who swallowed the moon,
felt the ice and the fire of it slide down her spine.
(No, not her throat.)
How it slid down her spine.
How it sizzled. How it burned.

I once knew a woman who swallowed a lie.
Felt it explode in her belly like stars.
Felt how her own light dimmed
and almost went out.
Girl, was she ever a mess!

I know a woman who lives in a house,
and this is how she exists in that house:
She sews things together.
She makes knots in strings.
She throws words in the air
to see which ones fall together.
She wanders down labyrinth hallways
weaving her fingerprints into all that she passes.
She steals words. This woman is a thief of words.
Just listen:

There once was a woman who wept a river.
I will not say if the river is tears.
I will not tell you about the mud,
and the stones, and the sycamore.
But this I can say:
when the weeping was done,
the river flowed through her house.
The words bobbed in the flow,
and the lie was extinguished,
and the moon was a boat she climbed into.

There once was a woman who sailed on the moon.
This is how she wailed.
This is how she moaned.
This is how she danced.
This is how she trailed a net behind her
to rescue the words she had lost.

Draining

Grief-work is draining.

You think you’ve got your hand on the valve, naming the emotions as they come, sorting and categorizing them, giving them their due. And then something comes along and stops up the pipe, impedes the flow, and all those wild emotions start to splutter and spray all over the place. Your carefully controlled flow becomes a torrent.

And then the pipes are cleared out, the weeping and raging is done for a time, and you’re. . .drained.

I had been holding it all so tearlessly, tending my emotional valves, calling it anxiety and simple sadness. And then the governor announced we wouldn’t be going back to school this year, and I was blindsided by the grief. When I started to let myself cry, I couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t stop pouring it out, couldn’t stop it gushing forth. I knew I had been experiencing sadness, but I had no idea how it would drown me when I started to give it voice. By day’s end, I felt like I’d experienced a death.

And that brings on the guilt. This is not a death. My losses are small. But this grief is not mine alone, and much of what I hold is grief for all the losses my students are experiencing, for those (mine and others all around the world) who will fall through the cracks, who will have to call on every ounce of their resilience to make it through, those who will be marked by this in lasting and terrible ways.

Were I not me, I would tell me that it’s okay to let yourself feel, to experience the emotions that come, to give voice, to weep, to rage, to break down. I would tell me not to be embarrassed or ashamed for the gushing of words and of pain. I would tell me that it’s necessary to open the valves so they don’t really explode. So I will call yesterday a necessary day, gather myself, tend to the work I left undone in the fog of grieving, mend and build and cleanse.

Today is for tending and mending, for quiet feeling.


Gratitude List:
1. These humming people. Jon goes about his work at home, humming and singing. Ellis scats along with the music in his headphones. Josiah bounces into a room humming (his two favorites seem to be the guitar riffs from “Seven Nation Army” and “Burn This Whole House Down”).
2. All the goldfinches! Fluttering through the milder winds of yesterday’s scouring, there must have been ten or twelve at the feeder at once, and so many bright ones!
3. I love the way the purple is wearing out of my hair–it’s fading to blue-grey on the ends where I’m greyest. Right now, I could mail order ALL the colors and experiment. It’s not like I’m going out in public any time soon.
4. This Ethiopian coffee a dear young person brought back from her trip home last Christmas. I have been allowed to go back to the classroom to get essential items that I had left behind, and last time I was there, I put this coffee in my box. It’s a connection to that part of my life, and it has a hint of cardamom which gives it mystery, and it tastes soooo delicious.
5. A four-day weekend. I didn’t get much of anything yesterday in the fog of sadness. Now I have catch-up time, and a chance to begin reconfiguring my long-term plans.

Walk in Beauty!


“Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.” —Hafiz
*****
“The problem is that you think you are separate from others.” —Richard Rohr
*****
“You have to want a thing enough to reach out for it.” —Lailah Gifty Akita
*****
“To wait within the moment for the coming dawn,
To breathe the single breath of all that lives,
To walk the web on which we all belong,
To face the newborn day with love instead of fear.
To listen for the whisper of the Spirit’s wind,
To feel Creator’s heartbeat in the world around,
To hear the grace of the Beloved in my neighbor’s voice,
To embrace the sacred space between the past and change.”
—Beth Weaver-Kreider
*****
“Hope is a dimension of the soul. . .an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . .It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” —Vaclav Havel
*****
“When time comes for us to again rejoin the infinite stream of water flowing to and from the great timeless ocean, our little droplet of soulful water will once again flow with the endless stream.” —William E. Marks
*****
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I Just Want This to Be Over

“I just want this to be over.”

That’s what I said to Jon before I slipped off to sleep last night. I’m tired of this sometimes overpowering feeling of dread. I’m tired of carrying this bag of tears just beneath the surface.

The virus has entered my circles. People I know, and the beloveds of people I know, are getting sick. I had just heard the news of John Prine’s death, and then an anxious email popped up from someone I know, asking me to pray for his family because his father (who is an essential worker) came home yesterday with a fever. The dread is seeping in deeply. I was relieved to escape the real world into sleep for a little while.

I’m sorry. That’s a lot of heavy to place into this bowl of a space first thing in the morning. But it’s a big part of what I’ve got. So I stretch and breathe, stretch and breathe. I breathe in, and feel all the places where my body is touching a surface. I breathe out and straighten my spine. I breathe in and draw in the blue violet of those wild hyacinths. I breathe out and relax my shoulders. I breathe in and hold the taste and smell of the coffee that I am drinking. I breathe out and notice the quiet cat at the windowsill. In. Out. I can feel myself settling.

The dread is not gone. It’s going to be a long time before it’s gone. And maybe it will never go away. Likely it will mark and shape who I become for the rest of my life. And not all of that will be terrible. Some will contribute to my growth and completeness as a human. But right now? Right now, I breathe, and I notice. I find ways to live through the dread.

And this morning I have strange and wacky dreams to sort through. There was a part of the dream that was part real-life, part animation. A young man in a striped shirt was sneaking around, watching people, trying not to get caught. It wasn’t creepy or terrifying–more like an old-fashioned mystery. We chased him to an open field where dozens of blankets were lying about. He crawled under one, and by the time we got there and lifted the corner, he’d vanished.

And there was a baby bird who fluttered up to me with its beak open. I fed it tomatoes–they’re red like worms, right? It’s back was developing rich golden feathers through the baby fluff. Someone said it was a cuckoo.

And the strangest and most beautiful was the phrase. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up with a song or a phrase in my head, often completely unrelated to anything. This morning’s phrase is “Thou camest to me in sadness. . .and what wilt thou do for joy?” Yes, my Sleep Angels seem to be speaking Elizabethan English. Despite the weirdness of the delivery, it seemed to be a pretty clear response to my expression of pain as I dropped into sleep. And I think of the dreams that I dreamed (there were others, which even now are fading), and I wonder if this is what I can do for joy today and in the coming days: I can let myself experience wonder and surprise. I can tend to those who need me to feed them whatever I have at hand. I can immerse myself in story. I can communicate with my beloveds.

It feels like an extension of a thing a friend wrote to me yesterday, when I asked her about her husband, who has a fever and a cough: “Holding grief and joy together is messy and weird.” That has to be one of the defining phrases of these days.

May we all find ways to bring joy into these days when grief and dread can feel all-encompassing. Listen to your dreams. Keep an eye out for blue, for gold, for the thousand shades of green. Hold each other close–in our hearts if not in our arms. And when it just seems like you cannot bear the dread, let someone know. Reach out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Ground and center. There is no way out but through, and it will be easier if we walk it together.


Gratitude List:
1. The messages that come in dreams (even–or especially–if they’re speaking in Elizabethan English)
2. That patch of blue violet wild hyacinth at the base of the bird feeder stand, and the violet Gill-on-the-Grass that spreads from there to the Japanese maple
3. The chipping sparrow in the Japanese maple
4. The sounds of the morning house: cat eating second (or third, or fourth) breakfast, the constant flow of the water fountain (yes, also for cats), the little bits of conversation with Josiah, my own breathing. . .
5. The way a gratitude list becomes a grounding in-the-moment exercise. The dread has not lifted, but I am no longer living in the center of that cloud. I have sunk to a deeper place, where I can find more complexity (for now)–there is joy in the midst of sadness, no matter how messy and weird it is to hold all those pieces together.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. May we walk in Beauty!


“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” —Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk


“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.” ―Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


“Where there’s life there’s hope, and need of vittles.” ―JRR Tolkien


“We are the ones we have been waiting for.” ―June Jordan


“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ―Albert Einstein


“We are all the leaves of one tree.
We are all the waves of one sea.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh


“It is respectable to have no illusions―and safe―and profitable and dull.” ―Joseph Conrad


“I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke


“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether they are worthy.” —Thomas Merton


“After a War” by Chinua Achebe

After a war life catches
desperately at passing
hints of normalcy like
vines entwining a hollow
twig; its famished roots
close on rubble and every
piece of broken glass.
Irritations we used
to curse return to joyous
tables like prodigals home
from the city. . . . The meter man
serving my maiden bill brought
a friendly face to my circle
of sullen strangers and me
smiling gratefully
to the door.
After a war
we clutch at watery
scum pulsating on listless
eddies of our spent
deluge. . . . Convalescent
dancers rising too soon
to rejoin their circle dance
our powerless feet intent
as before but no longer
adept contrive only
half-remembered
eccentric steps.
After years
of pressing death
and dizzy last-hour reprieves
we’re glad to dump our fears
and our perilous gains together
in one shallow grave and flee
the same rueful way we came
straight home to haunted revelry.

(Christmas 1971)

Breathe in. Breathe out.

MESSAGES TO SELF:
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in sunshine. Breathe in the fluttering of bird wings in sunlight.
Breathe out worry and anxiety and grief.
Breathe in the solidity of trees. Breathe in the stalwart courage of oak and locust and sycamore.
Breathe out worry and anxiety and grief.
(They will still be there for you to examine and explore. For now, let them go.)
Breathe in and raise your head. Drop your shoulders. Stand or sit up straighter.
Breathe the worry and sadness out the soles of your feet, into Earth. She can hold them for you.
Breathe in love and compassion.
Breathe out gratitude.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.

Today at some point, put you bare feet on Earth. Put your fingertips in water. Place your hands oh so tenderly on the bark of a tree. And breathe.


Gratitude List:
It feels like these lists are all beginning to repeat, as I sit at the same window every morning to write these lists, and my days look the same.
1. Bird life in the holler. One goldfinch is now fully suited up for summer. Phoebe is speaking its name into the cool morning. The sun turns that red cap on the downy woodpecker to fire.
2. The trees that surround me.
3. The waters that run through the hollow on their way to the River.
4. A lighter day today. The assignments are a little lighter today, and I am going to grade speeches. Enough. Enough. I have done enough.
5. Finding joys and wonders and delights to balance the sadness and anxiety.

Take Care of Yourself. Take Care of Each Other.



“What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.” —Alain de Botton


“We are capable of suffering with our world, and that is the true meaning of compassion. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings. Don’t ever apologize for crying for the trees burning in the Amazon or over the waters polluted from mines in the Rockies. Don’t apologize for the sorrow, grief, and rage you feel. It is a measure of your humanity and your maturity. It is a measure of your open heart, and as your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal.” —Joanna Macy


“We should have respect for animals because it makes better human beings of us all.” —Jane Goodall


“Let yourself be silently drawn
by the strange pull of what you love.
It will not lead you astray.” —Rumi


“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” —Harriet Tubman


“The little grassroots people can change this world.” —Wangari Maathai


“Some form of the prayer of quiet is necessary to touch me at the unconscious level, the level where deep and lasting transformation occurs. From my place of prayer, I am able to understand more clearly what is mine to do and have the courage to do it. Unitive consciousness—the awareness that we are all one in Love—lays a solid foundation for social critique and acts of justice.” —Richard Rohr


“You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” —Anonymous

In the Doorway of Lost Hopes

Today’s prompt is to write a sketch poem. Most of my poetry is sketches anyway, imagistic moments, a few lines of spiderweb, a dash of color, touch of light.

Crouching in the doorway
of your lost hopes,
you raise your head.
Morning sun dazzles your eyes
in a wash of gold and green.
Someone’s rooster crows
in the distance,
and a thousand little birds
bring the garden alive.

And then your name,
there in the too-bright light:
an egg, a seed,
planted in the soil
of your confusion, your grief.

Wake up! Do not try
to touch the heart of it.
Not yet.
Breathe it in.
Let it grow within you.
Now go and speak your truth
to those who will listen.

Shifts

Gratitude List:
1. How time shifts grief to a different space. This is the week, thirteen years ago, when my first child would have been due. I lost the pregnancy early, at thirteen weeks, but I was new to the horror of loss in those days, and it hit me like a truck. Today, it sits differently in me. Still, it wants to be noticed, to be remembered.
2. The light is coming back. We still have a long way to walk until Sunreturn, but it will come again. This year is harder than some, the claustrophobia more intense and grinding, and it’s hit me earlier. I am grateful for whatever lessons it has to teach me.
3. Coffee and chocolate
4. Getting it done, slowly but surely
5. Innovation and change

May we walk in Beauty!

Lament


Today’s Prompt is to write a lament. It’s hard not to get a little melodramatic in such a moment.

Weep, Sisters, weep.
Walk these broken streets
and wail, Sisters, wail.
Do not sleep.
Do not fail to keep
your careful vigil.
Give voice to your grief.

When the young ones are in danger
and the old ones mock and mutter,
when the guns are locked and loaded
and targets are our daughters
and our sons, but we’re too spineless
to confront this evil in our midst:

Weep, Sisters, weep.

When the Earth is torn and bleeding,
and the Ocean waves are reeking
with the filth which we’ve created,
and our greed cannot be sated
for the oil and blood and water,
for the spoils of war and slaughter:

Wail, Sisters, wail.

Dial Up the Magic


Today’s prompt is to write a ______ if ______ poem. His examples all filled the blanks with longish phrases, but this came to me:

If I sleep I will speak
Speak if I sing
Sing if I breathe
Breathe if I wait
Wait if I weep
Weep if I dream
Dream if I sleep.

 


(For some reason, the quotations from last year on this day all seem to be intended to comfort myself from some great sorrow)

” ‘They kept going, because they were holding onto something.’
‘What are we holding onto, Sam?’
‘There’s still good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.’ ”
—J. R. R. Tolkien
*
“Somewhere deep in the forest of grief
there is a waterfall where all your tears may flow
over mossy rocks, under watchful pines.”
—Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
“But this moment, you’re alive. So you can just dial up the magic of that at any time.” —Joanna Macy
*
“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” —E. B. White
*
“Love imperfectly. Be a love idiot. Let yourself forget any love ideal.” —Sark
*
“Everything I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything exists, only because I love.” —Leo Tolstoy
*
“Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk everything, you risk even more.” —Erica Jong
*
“Fall in love over and over again every day. Love your family, your neighbors, your enemies, and yourself. And don’t stop with humans. Love animals, plants, stones, even galaxies.” —Frederic and Mary Ann Brussa
*
“For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”
—Carl Sagan
*
“There are certain things, often very little things, like the little peanut, the little piece of clay, the little flower that cause you to look WITHIN – and then it is that you see the soul of things.”
—George Washington Carver


Gratitude List:
1. The way the large flocks of little birds line the electric lines when the pause to take a rest in their migrations, making the lines look furry
2. The way the color just keeps coming, keeps deepening, keeps astounding
3. The way the year has turned, from despair and rage to a kind of hope
4. The way the Open Secrets of Hollywood and Political Power are being blasted open so that powerful men can no longer hide their predations
5. Kale with dried tomatoes for supper

May we walk in Beauty!